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Outlining

At some point during your thesis writing process, you will also need to develop an outline for your paper and plan the topic sentences for each paragraph. Depending on how you work best and the deadlines set by your teacher, you may write this outline before, after, or along with your thesis. Whatever the timing, one truth remains the same: the more effort you apply to your outline, the more successful your drafting will be.

Outlines can take many forms ranging from a scratch outline to a formal outline. For the research paper, you need a formal outline with complete sentences. This means an outline with Roman numerals, lettering and numbering, developing each point into a full sentence.

It is also a good idea, if you already have a working thesis, to include it in your outline with your notes for the introductory paragraph. Having your thesis in mind will keep you on track as you plan. In addition, you will be more likely to notice any issues that may require a change in either the organization of your paper or the wording of your thesis.

The Basic Ingredients of an Outline

  • A rough idea of the plan for the introduction
  • A topic sentence for each paragraph, which clearly states what that specific paragraph will be about
  • A rough idea of how each paragraph leads into the next, and how each paragraph is related to the one before it
  • A list of evidence for each paragraph, preferably linked to sources with specific page numbers for quotes or paraphrase
  • A rough idea of the plan for the conclusion
  • See this template or an outlining software for help in formatting. For a position or debate paper, this is a good outline to use. For a Research paper with Essential Questions to answer, Mr. Kelly and Ms. Jones have created this template.

Introductions are like first impressions. They are lasting and important. Fortunately, you do have a second chance to write a good introduction. You can test as many introductory paragraphs as you are willing to write; only the one that makes it into your finished product matters.

Tips for a Strong Introduction

  • Introductions should be engaging. Consider using a related anecdote or an interesting statistic or quote to draw your reader into your paper.
  • Introductions often move from general information about the topic to the more specific concerns of the research at hand. This helps move the reader from what he or she already understands to what is probably new information.
  • Introductions do not need to be long. Keep your ideas direct and to the point, and move quickly to your thesis statement so that you can get on with the real content of your research.
  • Introductions are not the space for argument. Save your evidence for the body of the paper.
  • Introductions build to the thesis, which is generally the last sentence (or in some cases the last two sentences) of the introductory paragraph.

Example Outline

  1. Main Idea in Topic Sentence format
    1. Supporting Details
      1. Supporting Analysis
      2. More Evidence
    2. Supporting Details
      1. Evidence and Analysis to support
    3. Concluding Sentence to bring it all together and get ready for next Main Idea
  2. Main Idea in Topic Sentence format
    1. Supporting Details
      1. Supporting Analysis
      2. More Evidence
    2. Supporting Details
      1. Evidence and Analysis to support
    3. Concluding Sentence to bring it all together and get ready for next Main Idea

Topic sentences are like miniature thesis statements. They are the signposts that keep your reader on the same path you are following. They should give a good sense of what each paragraph, and only that paragraph, is about. While you can set up transitions at the ends of paragraphs, the real transition occurs in the beginning of each new paragraph. As a general rule, you should not mention a new idea until you have followed the formatting conventions of starting a new paragraph. The visual cue of the line break and the indent prepares the reader for the shift to a new idea, and so the transition should occur there.

As you outline, you should plan where in your paper you will use each piece of supporting evidence you have gathered from sources. The more carefully you plan your use of source material in the outlining stage, the more you will be able to focus on the craft of writing in the drafting stage. Beginning writers, and even experienced authors, often find it easiest to keep different kinds of thinking separate from one another, so that each can receive equal attention and energy. If you are at the outlining stage, you should read Organizing and Balancing Sources before you begin to plan where you will use your source material.

Your conclusion is easily as important as your introduction. It is the last thing your reader hears from you about your topic.

Tips for a Strong Conclusion

  • Conclusions do not need to be long. A rambling conclusion leaves the impression that you don’t know how to stop writing.
  • Conclusions are not the place for argument and evidence. Your argument should end in the paragraph before the conclusion.
  • Conclusions help your reader see the big picture of your argument. They allow your reader to leave your paper with a firm grasp of the significance of what they have read.
  • Conclusions move your reader back from your research into the outside world, ¬but with new knowledge. Answer the question “So what?” by placing your work in a larger context.

Outlining Software

At Ravenscroft, we use NoodleTools and EasyBib to help us through the paper writing process. Here you can enter in the citation and for each source and create notecards with information. Sort the notecards by topic. Then create an ouline for your paper and drag the notecards into the outline. Here is an example from EasyBib and Noodletools. Watch the Video here for more information about Outlining in EasyBib.

easybib

 

 

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